[Viewpoint] A very logical president

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[Viewpoint] A very logical president

It is not very often the president of Korea becomes the day’s newsmaker around the world. Korea, after all, is a small country tucked in the corner of Northeast Asia.

Syngman Rhee was a global newsmaker on Aug. 15, 1948, with the founding of the Republic of Korea and his inauguration as its first president.

Park Chung Hee surprised the world with both upheaval and tragedy. On May 16, 1961, Park led a military coup and seized power. On Oct. 16, 1979, he was assassinated.

Chun Doo Hwan, on Aug. 16, 1996, was sentenced to death for his suppression of the Dec. 12, 1979, military rebellion.

The world’s attention was on Roh Tae-woo on Sept. 17, 1988, as he announced the opening of the Seoul Olympics.

Kim Young-sam’s only moment in the world’s spotlight was his inauguration on Feb. 25, 1993.

Kim Dae-jung received international attention twice in 2000, when he met Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang on June 15 and when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Dec. 10.

Roh Moo-hyun made headlines through tragedy when he took his own life on May 23, 2009.

On Nov. 11 and 12, Lee Myung-bak had the world’s attention, but the spotlight Lee enjoyed was different from those that illuminated previous presidents. It did not come from social unrest, an incident on the Korean Peninsula, or a personal tragedy. Instead, it came from an international gathering called the G-20 Summit, with Korea as the chair of the G-20 major economies.

Ninety percent of that accomplishment came from the blood, sweat and tears of Korea’s citizens. However, Lee deserves credit for the remaining 10 percent. Thanks to his leadership, Korea escaped the financial crisis, and the international community recognized Korea’s success. Moreover, Lee reconstructed the Korea-U.S. alliance and reinforced his bond with U.S. President Barack Obama. Indeed, his diplomacy was a significant part of Korea’s hosting of the summit. Lee’s approval rating exceeds 55 percent, as many citizens acknowledge his 10 percent share of the G-20 glory.

Compared to the first year of his administration, Lee has changed in many ways. The year 2008 was disastrous for him: his personnel decisions were criticized for favoring candidates with academic, religious and regional connections, and protestors put intense pressure on him through candlelight vigils. The highest defender of law and order had to yield control of downtown Seoul to unlawful and violent groups and take refuge at the Blue House.

When he got burned from all that candlelight, he abruptly became a moderate pragmatist before his administration’s direction had fully formed. He seemed confused in many ways. But he still has problems. Voters who are struggling financially slapped the administration in the face in the June 2 local elections.

The Lee administration failed to sufficiently communicate with the public about major initiatives, such as the four-rivers restoration project. The ethics team in the Prime Minister’s Office was spying on civilians who were deemed to be critics of the administration. And then there was that corruption scandal involving a friend of the president. Nevertheless, these issues are not fatal enough to shake the foundations of the president’s power.

Despite its problems, the administration maintains focus. It has stuck to its principles on North Korean issues, including the Cheonan incident and the six-party talks. Above all, the president seems to be confident. What makes Lee Myung-bak keep coming back? One of the most important virtues for a president is getting the job done. A president has to be competent, and today, he is especially required to display competence in the global arena.

As the G-20 Seoul Summit has shown, Korea is no longer a diplomatic and economic frontier. The president of Korea deals with world leaders, wins nuclear power plant deals and high-speed railway contracts and leads alliances and partnerships. On the international stage, logic and persuasion are the most important survival tactics.

Around the same time, vegetable prices skyrocketed in Japan because of inclement weather. Neither the Japanese leader nor his citizens were bestirred - they understood it as the result of a natural phenomenon. What would Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan say if Korea’s president argued that cabbage price jumped because of the four-rivers restoration project (as his critics do)? Chinese President Hu Jintao would be mightily puzzled if the Korean president said the external blast that sunk the Cheonan was fiction (as Lee’s critics say).

Korea is likely to win the bid for the $20 billion high-speed railway project in Brazil. But if the president maintained that the four-rivers restoration project is associated with the grand canal (as Lee’s critics claim), would the Brazilian president trust Korea’s civil engineering technology?

A president who lacks logic and reasoning would destroy the future of the country.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jin
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